Interview: Comedienne Brooke Van Poppelen Shares Mortifying Moments.
The first time I met Brooke Van Poppelen was performing at COMIXComedy Club in NYC. It was my first show there, and she was hosting the show. She was hilarious and kept the crowd up-beat throughout the show with her witty banter, hilarious personal stories, and animated stage presence. We became fast friends and Brooke invited me to join her on a trip to her favorite city (besides NYC) Chicago.
She showed me the comedy hotspots and I got to see her rock the ZANIESComedy Club stage opening for BUTCH BRADLEY and Rob Riggle (The Daily Show). It was a great time and I thank Brooke for inviting me along! Brooke is a comedy veteran. She performs at popular comedy clubs around NYC and nationwide.
She was nominated for an ECNY Award (Emerging Comic of New York)! She writes hilarious blogs for Lemondrop.com and The Printed Blog, along with writing her own fabulous blog called “NEW YORK IS RETARDED“.
Cheroc: How did you get started in comedy?
Brooke Van Poppelen: “I was in a really tough spot in college. I didn’t know how to finish my degree, and I’d actually been interning for and program directing a local film festival in Michigan. I got to see all of these indie films, with normal people acting, and it seemed very within reach. I felt like ‘Oh my God, there’s industry in Chicago! I don’t have to be in Los Angeles to get this process started!’ So I was like ‘Hey, I’m moving to Chicago. Anyone want to move with me?’ And my friend Sara randomly was like ‘Ok, I hate Michigan. Let’s get the fuck outta here!’ So, I just blindly moved to Chicago and started trying to be a comedian. I took classes at Improv Olympic and Second City. My very first teacher was Dan Bakkedahl, fromThe Daily Show. “
Cheroc: Tell me about your best and worst shows.
Brooke: “The worst show I ever had. Ok,Jordan Carlos, Sean O’Connor, Nick Maritato and I were on a tour of East Coast Summer Camps entertaining children (not your average child and not your average camps —Eddie Murphy and Steven Spielberg’s kids were at these camps), and ‘This American Life’caught wind of it and followed us. Instead of doing stand-up for the really young campers, we chose to do improv. And oh my God, we came up with this bizarre improv show and we were in the middle of the woods in Northern Maine and we just ate shit! We tanked so hard. We didn’t know what we were doing because we had never improvised together.
We were trying to play a game with characters who spoke in dialects of the kids choosing. We told the children to ‘Name a dialect or accent for us to improvise a scene with—they said ‘Yiddish!’—it was a completely Jewish camp. None of of us knew enough about the culture to impersonate it, so we were just making gibberish sounds..so it was really offensive. It was just so embarrassing, there was nowhere to run and hide– these kids hated us. VERY judgmental 5-year-olds! To me that stands out as one of the most mortifying moments. I feel like I scarred some children permanently with my bad comedy.
For my best show, I have to say I’m riding a high right now from doing Bobby Tisdale’s show last night. It’s my favorite show in NYC! It’s called ‘The Wards of Merkin‘. I think it’s one of the best and he’s just cultivated the best vibe. I’ve done the show 3 times and last night was by far one of the most fun times I’ve had doing comedy!”
Cheroc: I’m excited to see your one-woman show called “So-Low” in NYC! How was the show conceived?
Brooke: “The best way to put it, is that I do sketch comedy and I write a lot. I’ve written a couple sketch comedy shows in Chicago and here in New York as well, and I’ve been in some plays. I wanted to do a one-woman show because I wanted to do something my way. I wanted to see what I was capable of all by myself, in a format where I could finally be creative and peak.
I have a lot of bits that just don’t fit into stand-up, and when I do them and try to put them in a joke form they just never shine. They’re really funny premises that when I have sound effects and really take my time with a story, and music or a visual aide, they really become a funny sketch. I really wanted to do this for my own good. It’s about the low moments that are now cathartic and funny.
That is something I think everyone can learn from and relate to. Everything in the show is autobiographical. It’s me doing sketches based on my life. It incorporates my love for Chicago sketch comedy , the story-telling I learned from watching and performing at The Moth, and definitely a nod to David Sedaris since he was a huge influence on me from about age 19.”
Cheroc: What hidden talents do you possess, or wish you had?
Brooke: “I would really like to be in a musical! I never thought in a million years I would say this, but I’d really like to audition to be on Broadway for something. You know, they always scoop up the kinda smart-allecky comedian who maybe can’t sing very well, but she can really ham-it-up and does this great cameo.
I think comedy chops really lends itself to being good for big stage productions. And I love to sing. My voice has been ruined over the years, but nothing gives me more joy than just belting out a song.
A few people have heard me at my best and have done a double-take. One night Carolyn Castiglia and I were doing karaoke and I belted out an Aretha Franklin song and she said ‘Van Poppelen, you got some pipes!’
Cheroc: If you could perform with anyone (living or deceased) who would it be, and why?
Brooke: “Amy Sedaris is my hero! I just love her and it’s a double whammy because her and her brother David were huge influences on me.David Sedaris influenced me because of his writing, and I’d never really read anything confessionally funny. I was probably 19 when I picked up one of his books and that was a gigantic influence on the way I write. He’s really self-deprecating and open. I immediately went out and bought his books-on-tape box set and the parts where Amy pipes in..the characters she does..I was just in hysterics listening to this. I just didn’t know that writing and doing live readings could be so hysterical and powerful. They’re idols to me in the writing and comedic acting senses.”
Cheroc: What is your creative process when writing a joke, or creating a show?
Brooke: “Like every comedian I just have a notebook and scraps of paper with me at all times. It just looks like serial-killer manifestos stacked on top of one another. The notebooks and legal pads I’ve filled over the past 7 years is just a scary, ratty, collection of craziness. To write a show, I think you just get a sense for what you like. You have to give yourself a lot of time to explore. MARA HERRON and I agree that that has been a huge part of the process. You might zero in on a topic and then you have to go back and re-live it. I went through old pictures, listened to old music from certain points in my life, and that brought me back to those moments. And going back to those moments when you were most afraid, or the time you felt most embarrassed, because when it’s really traumatic it stands out more; at least for me. There are times in the creative process you think you’re just wasting time, but you’re not. I’ve been doing this for almost 8 years and really have just started to feel like I know how to do write and perform.”
Cheroc: Who were your celebrity crushes when you were young?
Brooke: “Johnny Depp in ‘Cry Baby’, no doubt about it! I loved Mickey Dolenz from The Monkees. Loved him! I adored Michael Palinfrom “Monty Python“. And Jimmy Page from Led Zepplin. Not even a crush–like a full-fledged obsession. I’d never had sex, not even a heavy make-out session, but I wanted to ‘do sex’ to him (laughs). That’s definitely a really embarrassing stand-out crush.”
Cheroc: How was your experience being a correspondent for Asylum.com at the X-GamesAXE Body Spray in Los Angeles, California? (LINK HERE)
Brooke: “It was actually a really great time. It was bizarre because no one knew exactly what we were doing there other than I guess going to write something funny about the X-Games. I have done a couple funny little videos and contribute blog posts for AOL’s Lemondrop.com (Asylum.com is the men’s humor/ lifestyle blog,Lemondrop is slanted toward the ladies).
So, since I was kinda the newest freelance person and they knew I was a comedian and not afraid to be on-camera, they asked me. The experience at X-Games was interesting because in a weird way I really felt like a journalist — I was totally a fish out of water and wanted to know what these extreme people were all about. It was really thrilling to be sitting in the arena and all of a sudden 30 dirt bikes start flying through the air. It was intense and really cool! It made me want to slam some brews. “
Cheroc: Where do you hope comedy will take you?
Brooke: “I started out blindly wanting to be a house-hold name sort of comic, which is so hard to do. But doing stand-up comedy has now given me such an edge that I have really cool options. There are so many fields in the industry now, that I might have never known about otherwise. Writing gives me great pleasure. I want to get a collection of short stories published. I would like to kick out my first screenplay. Joselyn Hughes and I are a great writing team and we have a lot of killer material up our sleeves which we will be unleashing on the world after the new year. They’re all largely about my menial employment over the years. That’s something that would make me really happy, and people respond favorably to the things I write..which feels great! And I would not have started writing as much as I did if I hadn’t started doing comedy. I love producing, directing, writing, and of course I love performing too. Within the next year
Cheroc: What’s on the horizon for Brooke Van Poppelen?
Brooke: “My one-woman show “So-Low”. I’m pretty obsessed with it right now. I like watching stand-up take a theatrical route, and I don’t think you get to see that all the time. Taking everyone on a journey of my ups and downs, and being able to express myself in all the ways I want to has been really powerful. Furthermore, I think you’re only ready to do your story when you’re ready to do it and the timing was FINALLY right. I want to enter my show into festivals and keep re-inventing and perfecting it in NYC, until I could potentially tour with it. That’s what I hope to accomplish with my show. Getting on Late Night television is a goal of mine also, but I really want to try and bring something uniquely ‘Brooke’ to the stage—not my crowd pleasing jokes about being a drunk binge eater which, although are totally true, only represents one type of funny that I possess.
*THANKS* to Brooke Van Poppelen for granting me this awesome exclusive interview. Check out Brooke’s websitewww.brookevanpoppelen. to get updates on upcoming shows, videos, and more! And visit Brooke’s YouTube channel for more of her stand-up and funny videos. If you’re in NYC, you can catch Brooke’s one-woman show called “So-Low” at the Phil Coltoff Center for Performing Arts. Thursday November 12th, 2009 is the finale, and I’ll be there! Brooke shares the bill with the hilarious Mara Herron in her own one-woman show called “Fly Girl” www.thatchickmaraherron.com. Hurry and get your tickets here to see 2 hilarious one-of-a-kind shows in one great night!Brown Paper Tickets.